Touching the Lives of Students One Online Class at a Time

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By Rimsha Syed

Whether it’s their willingness to go above and beyond or their attentiveness to the personal struggles of their students, we’ve all had exceptional teachers who undoubtedly shaped the individuals we are today. If we were fortunate, we had numerous teachers who made our time in school unforgettable. The transformative power of a passionate educator can instill a deep found inspiration to continue to learn even after one is no longer a student. 

Shelly Fisher, Proximity Learning online educator, has been teaching grades K-6 for about 25 years now! It wasn’t until her first year of teaching online classes that her students surprised her with a gesture that reminded her of the gratitude she has carried through the years. On her last day of class, she was showered with appreciation letters from her students who stood up to read them one by one. Shocked and warm-hearted, Fisher sat down with Proximity Learning to talk more about her experience.

Proximity Learning: How did you get into teaching and how long have you been doing it? How long have you been an online instructor with Proximity Learning?

I just finished my 25th year in education and have taught in each of the grade levels between Kindergarten through sixth. That time also encompassed three years as an assistant principal and two years as a campus principal. I knew that I wanted to be a teacher when I was in the first grade. I started with PLI in January of 2019.

Proximity Learning: Can you tell us the story of how your students surprised you with appreciation letters? How did that make you feel?

It was our last day together and the facilitator and I had worked together to plan a fun day of Jeopardy and prizes. Right before we began, one of the students asked if they could read part of their research paper to me. We had been working on research papers as our last project of the year. I had been encouraging the students to share their work in progress and when they were ready for peer feedback, I was happy to hear another paper on my last day. When she began reading it, it became clear that it was a thank you and goodbye letter. I teared up. I was so moved by her words, the fact that she had written such an eloquent letter to me, and by the thoughtfulness of the facilitator to give the student time to write to me. Then, another student asked to read and I figured out that they had all written letters to me on their scheduled workday and my non-live day. I couldn’t believe it! The student began to cry and couldn’t finish her letter.  The facilitator and several of the other students started to get emotional as well and the facilitator said, “I don’t think we can read them, Ms. Fisher.” I was so incredibly humbled by their words, emotions, and efforts to tell me all that I had done for them and that they were going to miss me.

Proximity Learning: Did you end up keeping all the letters you received that day?

I kept every single one. Those students were my first online students and they will always have a very special place in my heart. They said that they learned a lot from me, but I learned so much from them too. It was an amazing experience and I can’t wait to get started for the 2019-2020 school year.

Proximity Learning: Can you recall a letter that struck out amongst the others?

I knew those kids so well and worked with them on so many projects that each letter had significant meaning to me. It’s the overall effort behind them that touched me so deeply. The fact that I was able to establish such a strong rapport with them while working from a screen seems like a dream come true to me, and I am committed to making that happen every single time I log on for Proximity Learning Inc.

If I had to pick one portion from one letter that represents the overall goal and objective of Proximity Learning, Inc. it would be this one:

“Thank you for helping us learn things we never even knew about and taking the time to teach us and putting more important things in our brain. Without you, we never would’ve even known all this stuff we know now.”

If I had to pick one sentence that reminds me that there is so much more to being an educator and lead learner than just pouring content into our students, it’s this one:

“You are encouraging and joyful, and it’s really funny when you try to make us laugh. I love you Ms. Fisher.”

What an amazing gift we have to offer at PLI thanks to the brainstorming of Evan Erdberg! 

Proximity Learning: Did this experience change any previous bias’ you had toward online teaching? 

I don’t know if I had a bias towards online teaching, but I did reflect heavily on how I personally would strive to make those teacher-student connections and make sure that the students know I cared about them, their struggles, their accomplishments, and their lives in general. I don’t worry about that so much now!

Rimsha Syed is an Austin-based Pakistani Muslim daughter of fierce immigrants. In Urdu, her name means a bouquet of flowers. Rimsha is a freelance journalist, community organizer, and creative who hopes to disrupt imperial influenced media and re-write history from the perspective of all those oppressed by systems of power meant to exploit working-class people of color globally. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 2019 where she studied journalism and women and gender studies. You can read more of her work here.

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